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Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Fifty years ago today: Chelsea 2 Leeds 1 in the F. A. Cup Final replay

At twelve noon on this day in 1970 I left my desk at Heathrow Airport, got a bus to Hounslow West,  underground to Hendon, and hitch-hiked north to watch the F A Cup Final replay between my team, Chelsea, and our most hated rivals, Leeds.

I was in outer Manchester for six-thirty, and at Old Trafford half an hour before kick-off. I had my ticket in my pocket. At ten shillings (50p) it was a sight cheaper than the one I got from a tout for the original final. That set me back £7, about 30% of my week's wage. 

I had attended every game of our glorious run to the Final – all except the fourth-round replay at Burnley, when the late Peter Houseman scored a hat-trick in a 3-1 triumph.

Round 3 was a routine 3-0 win v Birmingham

Cover photo shows the celebrations during a 5-1 win in the League, at Crystal Palace, just after Christmas

Round 4. My only memory of the first Burnley game was that we were 2-0 up with five minutes to go. My mate Dave, a Norwich supporter, said, 'Makes a change to see your lot win. They never do when I come.' Five minutes later we had conceded twice and had to replay at Turf Moor.

Nice picture of Alan Hudson beating Arsenal goalie Bob Wilson in a recent 3-0 win at Highbury

Round 5. It was in the game at Crystal Palace that Chelsea really hit their stride. A few weeks earlier I’d watched them win 5-1 at Selhurst Park (see Birmingham prog, above). This day we settled for 4-1.

Round 6, the quarter-final. Four more goals at QPR… Chelsea were really flying now, although still trailing Leeds and eventual Champions Everton in the League. QPR fielded two former Chelsea stars, the lightning fast Barry Bridges, and that wily fox (future Barcelona and England manager) Terry Venables. We did them, 4-2. 

Very jazzy covers at Loftus Road in those days - note the rosette for 'best programme'

Semi-final. Then Watford at White Hart Lane. This game was actually closer than the 5-1 scoreline suggests. On a sand-heap of a pitch (typical Tottenham) it was 1-1 well into the second half. Then we went nuts and scored four.

Never worked out why we kicked off at 2.45, but who cares? We romped home.

Then on to the Final at Wembley, and yes, I can  admit it now, Chelsea were a tad lucky to get a 2-2 draw with a late, late equaliser from the late great Ian Hutchinson. But it was Leeds, so screw 'em. It wasn't just the fans: the players hated each other too. It's on record.

Two bob for a programme. Youch!

And finally, Old Trafford. There was that sickening feeling when Leeds went in front, but that made the elation - when (the late) Peter Osgood nodded in Charlie Cooke's pass right below us at the Stretford End - all the greater. In extra time the belief started to grow. From a typically huge throw from Hutchinson, nodded on by John Dempsey, David Webb nodded the ball into the net. Everyone went mental. To this day I recall it as an out of body experience. But I was young, and VERY excited.  The Cup meant more than the League in those days. Truly. It was more or less the only live game on TV every year and attracted a huge audience. 29 million tuned in for this one - more than half the UK population at the time. 

I had been up at 5 that morning to start my shift at the Airport, and I'd hitch-hiked 200 miles north with little thought about how to get home. I followed a singing chanting crowd of CFC supporters to the station, piled on a train, paid my £4 and emerged at Euston about three in the morning. Somehow I found a couple of guys who wanted to head southwest and we shared a cab to Kingston. I walked over the bridge to Hampton Wick, alone, 4 in the morning, singing Ee Aye Addio We Won The Cup at the top of my voice. Grabbed some sleep and went back to work..

Monday, 27 April 2020

Things that make me cheerful at this time of year.

We have been having some fabulous spring weather here in the UK and I count myself fortunate in being able to enjoy it to the full.

Mostly, it's about the promise of good times up ahead - as seen in the blossom on our young apple tree.

It's a James Grieve - fairly tart, so good for dessert or cooking. And a late bloomer, less prone to frost damage. 

The flowers on the currant bushes also suggest that a decent harvest might come our way in a few months. We planted a number of young bushes - whips, really - two or three years ago, and they are finally starting to flourish.

Redcurrant. Note the liberal use of excess packaging from outfits like amazon: great for suppressing weeds

We still have a few of last year's redcurrants in the freezer. I'll be making a syrup with them tomorrow to fold into the ice cream I'm making. (Eggs, cream, some sugar; nothing else.)

And then there's the good old reliable rhubarb. We've been eating it for a month already and will carry on picking until about June. A lot will be frozen.

The buttercups come with the territory.

The spring has also brought us a surprise visitor: a wasp has built a neat little nest right inside the door of the shed. Not sure what to do about it. I do not want a colony, but I suspect this fellow lives alone. It's unlike any wasp's nest I've seen. I watched the occupant crawl in a few hours ago, so I know it's a going concern.

Okay, back to writing business in my next blog.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

I'm LIVE online. About 1800h.

Sorry about the short notice, but if you care to follow this link

you'll catch me being interviewed for the Nebraska Writers Guild. Live, from my desk, Durham UK.

You can also catch me here:

(I'm not sure I should be using the 'catch' word just now, but it'll have to do.)

I'll be talking about my career (1964 to present day), my books (25-plus) and what I think success looks like.

Okay, make-up calling...

Friday, 17 April 2020

Download a half-hour radio interview with me.

A few weeks ago I was invited by Larry Matthews, a radio producer operating out of Washington DC, to do an interview about my interest in Nebraska. I chose mostly to talk about the trips that inspired the two books above. (Both are available on amazon.) You can find them here 

The finished piece went out earlier this week, and you can download it here (I'm first up.):

Hope you enjoy listening as much as I did talking.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Colour-code your characters. It’ll save a lot of confusion.

The Nebraska Sandhills, where most  of the new novel takes place

What is writing a novel like? The beginning: a ride through a spring wood. The middle: the Gobi Desert. The end: going down the Cresta run.’

That Edith Wharton knew a thing or two, didn’t she?

I surprised myself by starting a novel in Scotland. I got 20,000 words down in quite a hurry. And I fooled myself into thinking it really was going to be that easy. Twenty thousand a month, I calculated, meant 60,000 by midsummer. Another month for straightening out the bends, and bingo. Should be done by about August.

Yes. I know. And thank you to that part of my brain which always – always – wants to reduce everything to simple mathematics. Will you please shut up?

The beginning was such an easy ride. I had a character on a long journey, by car. Portland, Oregon to western Nebraska, in a winter storm. He’s eighty years old, so he can think about all kinds of past experiences as he ticks off the miles along Interstate 80. He can spin yarns, reminisce, express opinions. All good entertaining stuff. When he arrives in the Panhandle, he puts up in a hotel, and thinks about the ordeal ahead of him: a visit to the ranch where he grew up sixty years ago, and to the nursing home where his sister has had a stroke. I skipped through that lot. It was a piece of cake. Not so much a ride through a spring wood as a barefoot run across warm sands towards a tropical sea.

And then. Then I started to ponder how to take it forward. How to account for my man’s life over the past six decades. How to explain his refusal ever to return home over the same period. What exactly was the unspeakable act by his father that drove him away? Why didn’t he even come back for the old man’s funeral? And so on.

Over the past six weeks I have written endless notes to myself. I have compiled  timelines for several major characters, both living and dead. I have stared out of the window even more than usual. I have sweated over a huge wall-chart where all my characters’ lives are laid out in parallel. (It’s a pity the wallpaper I used didn’t let the post-it notes adhere to it, meaning that half of them are now on the floor. How I wished I’d stuck to my plan and colour-coded them.)

And then the problem of how to relay all the information I have about the guy’s father (dead these thirty years), his grandfather, who conked out in 1953 when my protagonist was thirteen. Throw in a character we have yet to meet who may be my man’s real father and will most likely have to be murdered before I’ve finished – or at the very least ‘disposed of’. And weave in a role for the author Mari Sandoz, who was courted by pop for twenty years until she shook him off.… These things can tax a fellow’s brain.

However. I have somehow squeezed out a further 12,000 words and am ready to set out across the Gobi (see Wharton, above).

Still crossing sand, and no whiff of the sea. Yet.